Loads of Success with Continental Linen Services

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Hannah Ziegeler
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A typical four-person household washes eight to 10 laundry loads every seven days, according to Unclutterer. Averaging 16 pounds per load, this equates to lugging 144 pounds of dirty clothes to and from the laundry room each week. Contrast this vision to that of the 450,000 pounds of laundry serviced weekly at Continental Linen Services (CLS) in Kalamazoo, and the home laundry washer may feel less inclined to complain about the chore.

“Yes, we do a bit more than the average household,” agreed Senior Vice President and Owner Sarah Wrubel.

The company dates back to the pre-home-washer-and-dryer era of 1899, when CLS was called Kalamazoo Laundry Company. It mainly served homeowners and some hotels and businesses.

With the advent of home appliances, the company moved into more commercial work. In 1966, Wrubel’s grandfather, Ted Vander Meer, purchased the business and renamed it Continental Linen Services.

Wrubel described the evolution. “We began to lease linens for restaurants and hotels and uniforms for factories. Our service area grew and now includes all of Michigan, northern Indiana, and northwest Ohio. We’ve added lease-only textiles, restroom products, a direct sales division to sell garments, promotional products, and five more locations.”

CLS invested considerably in garment automation, evolving from hand barcoding to inserting radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags that contain vital tracking information. A recent $2.5 million automation project introduced vacuum-sort technology for the company’s linen business.

A mechanical marvel, this technology starts with soiled laundry hanging in bags from a distribution line. It drops the laundry onto a sorting station. Articles are fed into a vacuum tube and sucked into a holding area or sent up a conveyer belt for further sorting. Full loads are then automatically released into a sling once the proper washer-load weight has been identified. This sling then travels on a tubular monorail to the washers.

“Previously, we hand-sorted laundry into carts on the floor, which were then manually weighed and hoisted into overhead storage. Each sling was later walked to the washer,” Wrubel said. “This automation is huge for us. We now have complete control of load sizes, allowing the precise wash formula for optimum results.”

More automation is planned in the coming year. Increased capacity has led to sales growth and new jobs in the areas of high-volume ironing, route sales, marketing, human resources, and administration.

“Family culture is important here,” Wrubel said. “We are trying to move more positions to first shift and accommodate part-time and non-traditional positions. I want to know everyone’s name and let them know they’re important.”

A wall-mounted family tree containing all team member names reinforces her words.

To learn more about CLS, visit clsimage.com.

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